Mississippi Power Suspending Coal Gasification Efforts at Kemper Plant

Numerous reports Wednesday evening indicated that the utility is immediately suspending those operations

Content Dam Pe Online Articles 2015 January Photo 1 Kemper 3

After years of cost overruns, missed construction deadlines and now regulatory reprimand, Mississippi Power is pulling the plug on the coal gasification operations at its troubled Kemper County power plant.

Numerous reports Wednesday evening indicated that the utility is immediately suspending those operations, which have caused the company years of troubles in trying to finish the power plant.

The plant will continue to burn natural gas for power generation "pending the Mississippi Public Service Commission's decision on future operations," according to a release from Mississippi Power.

The Kemper plant’s price tag has risen to $7.5 billion, more than double what was originally expected. The plant first generated power using coal syngas in December 2015.

The idea was to take locally available lignite coal and gasify it using a process called an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), hopefully cutting back on the carbon emissions in inherent with traditional coal-fired generation. The process can also turn other coal power pollutants, like sulfur, into useful byproducts.

The IGCC technology is supposed to produce comparable pollution levels as a conventional natural gas-fired power plant, but since the technology was first championed as a way to clean up coal, natural gas has gotten much cheaper and the cost of IGCC technology has increased in cost.

The plant was also intended to capture about two thirds of the carbon dioxide from the burning syngas and pump it into nearby oilfields to aid extraction, but the plant's carbon capture technology is not online.

Environmentalist group the Sierra Club has called Kemper the most expensive power plant ever built, based on capacity.

At Kemper, continuous delays and ever rising costs inspired the ire of Mississippi regulators.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission said the plant should burn only natural gas, as it has done for the most part since 2014, to help keep costs low for ratepayers.

In 2015, Mississippi Power raised rates on its 186,000 customers by $126 million a year to help pay for Kemper.

Mississippi Power is a unit of Southern Co.

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